‘The Impossible,’ helmed by director J.A. Bayona, is based on the harrowing true story of a family caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, one of the deadliest disasters in recorded history. We are introduced to the Belón family on their flight as it prepares to land in Thailand, their Christmas vacation destination. The mother, Maria (Naomi Watts), father, Henry, and three sons. They are enjoying festivities, and while at their beach resort’s pool, start to hear a distant roar, drawing closer and growing deafeningly loud.
A gargantuan tidal wave washes over the seaside retreat, sweeping Maria and her eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), one way, while carrying off Henry and the younger sons in another. A grueling struggle follows as the family tries to pull together with indomitable strength and survive the catastrophe. Their strife is made anguishedly real with incredible practical effects and performances by the cast, for which Naomi Watts received an Oscar nomination. The resort, the first tidal wave, and the following flood of water are all alarmingly realistic, leaving many wondering if the movie was filmed in the actual location of the disaster.
The Impossible Filming Sites
‘The Impossible’ was filmed in the same resort in Thailand in which the real-life Belón family had been in 2004. The characters even stood at the exact locations where their real-world counterparts had been standing when the tsunami hit. The scenes with tidal waves and water currents were shot at a studio in Alicante, Spain. Filming for the movie began on August 23, 2010, in Spain and continued for weeks before wrapping up in October in Thailand. Here are the specific locations where the movie was shot.
Phang Nga, Thailand
Phang Nga province lies in southern Thailand, West of the Malay Peninsula. It is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the country as it holds luxurious beach resorts and the natural wonders of Phang Nga Bay. Faithful to true events, filming took place at the Khao Lak Orchid Beach Resort in Taku Pa district, the same establishment the Belón family had stayed at during their calamitous visit.
María Belón had a supervisory role in the production; she wrote and sent personal accounts of events and painted a picture of her experience, giving a vision for the filmmakers to follow as closely as possible. Filming for the hospital scenes took place in Takua Pa Hospital, Phet Kasem Rd, Takua Pa district. On the day of the Tsunami, the hospital became a major referral center for injured in the district, taking in around a thousand patients on day one. Scenes shot in the hospital have also been a faithful reconstruction of real events, with Thai doctors and nurses hurrying around to save lives and taking any help they could get from able-bodied survivors.
The studio used in ‘The Impossible’ is located within the port city of Alicante city in the Valencian Community, falling in southeastern Spain. In order to simulate as close an experience to reality as possible for the audience, director Bayona opted to film in real water instead of digitally simulating it. These practical effects were created in the Ciudad de la Luz filming studio in Alicante. Here, scenes of the initial wave slamming into the actors were simulated with water slides and cut-up debris.
A titanic pool was prepared for shots of the characters being swept away by the currents and staying adrift on floating objects to survive. Filming in the massive water tank took place for five weeks, extracting a physiological toll on the actors, and giving them a perspective of what an impossible struggle the family had faced in reality. To create the iconic scene of the tsunami crashing over the beach resort’s buildings, a miniature set was created and flooded. With the use of a changed camera perspective, the shot was embedded in the background, as Lucas stares, frozen in horror, at the oncoming devastation.
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